Forced Sterilization

In China –

A teacher coerced into giving classes in Xinjiang internment camps has described her forced sterilization at the age of 50, under a government campaign to suppress birth rates of women from Muslim minorities. Qelbinur Sidik said the crackdown swept up not just women likely to fall pregnant, but those well beyond normal childbearing ages. Messages she got from local authorities said women aged 19 to 59 were expected to have intrauterine devices (IUDs) fitted or undergo sterilization.

In 2017, Sidik was 47 and her only daughter was at university when local officials insisted she must have an IUD inserted to prevent the unlikely prospect of another pregnancy. Just over two years later, at 50, she was forced to undergo sterilization. When the first order came, the Chinese language teacher was already giving classes at one of the now notorious internment camps appearing across China’s western Xinjiang region.

She knew what happened to people from Muslim minorities who resisted the government. In a Uighur-language text message that she shared, local authorities made the threat explicit. “If anything happens, who will take responsibility for you? Do not gamble with your life, don’t even try. These things are not just about you. You have to think about your family members and your relatives around you,” the message said. “If you fight with us at your door and refuse to collaborate with us, you will go to the police station and sit on the metal chair!”

In the US –

Dawn Wooten, a nurse working at an ICE detention center in Georgia, made startling allegations about the treatment of the women detained there. Wooten filed a whistleblower complaint against the agency last Monday.

Natalia Molina has written about the history of forced sterilization. There’s a shameful legacy of US officials ordering operations on people without their consent — often disproportionately targeting people of color — with laws driven by racism and cloaked in terms about mental health and fitness. There’s a long history affecting many different racial and ethnic groups, across many institutions — mental health hospitals, public hospitals and prisons.

The ICE allegations can be seen as a recent episode in a much longer trajectory of sterilization abuse and reproductive injustice.

Back in 1907, Indiana passed the world’s first eugenics sterilization law. 31 other US states followed suit. Women and people of color increasingly became the target, as eugenics amplified sexism and racism. The laws, which led to officials ordering sterilizations of people they deemed “feeble-minded” or “mentally defective,” later became models for Nazi Germany.

Under those laws, about 60,000 people were sterilized in procedures that we would qualify today as being compulsory, forced, involuntary, and under the justifications that the people who were being sterilized were unfit to reproduce. In California, people of Mexican descent were disproportionately sterilized. And in North Carolina, Black women were disproportionately targeted. Most of the state laws were repealed by the 1970s. But their history is something states are still reckoning with.

Could progressives become the next target upheld by a very conservative Supreme Court ? One hopes not but with the craziness that is overtaking the US, one can no longer predict how outrageous an unethical policy might be and still be upheld in the coming future. What has been done, cannot be undone, but we should never be silent about injustice and abuse. We can stop turning our heads away because it is someone else’s problem.

Never forget, social ideas can be twisted in order to promote dehumanization. Like the Muslim ban Trump ordered shortly after his inauguration.

Three Identical Strangers

In the 1960s, a research project into identical siblings, placing them separately for adoption into different classes (poor, middle and wealthy), was done for the purpose of determining the impact of financial resources on their outcomes.  Back in the 1930s to 1950, Georgia Tann had a similar thought – taking babies from poor families and placing them into wealthier homes would lead to better outcomes for the children.

My mom was one of those babies.  She was adopted in 1937.  Both of her parents were very poor and struggling to survive the Great Depression but they were exploited by threats from Georgia Tann that her close relationship with the Juvenile Court judge in Memphis would support any removal of children she suggested.  Sadly.

So, in the 1980s, when these young men were 19 years old and began attending college, they discovered that they had been separated after birth into different adoptive families.  Even the adoptive parents didn’t know there were other genetically identical siblings.  The triplets accidentally found each other when two of them enrolled at the same college and found the third when he saw the story on the news. After the three siblings reunited, they became media darlings for awhile and even met their original biological parents.

It is not entirely a happy story and a suicide trigger warning is justified.  The two surviving triplets carry the DNA, the history, the pain, and the heart of their deceased brother. As the three boys entered adulthood each of them dealt with mental illness and psychiatric care.

The carelessness of the adoption agency that gave the boys away turns out to be something far crueler and more deviously deliberate than possibly imaginable. It is a shockingly true story but not unlike other psychological research from that era. Ethics were just not on the radar yet. People were treated like lab rats.

One woman, now much older, who was involved with the research study is blasé about the whole thing saying it was exciting to mess with people’s lives and noting what’s done is done.

The children who were the study subjects involved will not have access to the findings until 2065, by which time they will likely not be still alive.  This is because our own government funded this study.

This program does show how strong genetics truly are.  Being separated at birth results in life long trauma. All adoption agencies exist to make money. The program suggests that some of the adoptive parents would have happily taken all three boys, if they had known the truth, at the time.

One of the scientists involved in the study interviewed for the program kept laughing, saying inappropriate things, none of what happened was funny.  He said there’s probably at least four people (probably many more) who have no idea they are twins or that they were part of a study.

Currently one of the brothers practices law, the other sells insurance and investments. One of the two is (or soon will be) divorced.  These kinds of mental health and relationship impacts are quite common among adoptees.

Which leaves me with two questions (I have not seen, only have read about this program) – Is science worth keeping secrets and being immoral to accomplish unbiased research ? And how much of who we are is Nature and how much Nurture ? (That second one I’ve been looking at for 20 years.)